Not Surprising, Says Architect

Within a story on the 1905 collapse of the John G. Myers department store on North Pearl Street in Albany were some comments from Marcus T. Reynolds, without a doubt Albany’s most prominent architect of the day, one of a small handful of men who shaped what the city looks like to this day. He built a few things like the Delaware and Hudson Railroad headquarters (now SUNY Central Administration), the First Trust Building across the street, several banks, the new Albany Academy, and the remarkable Delaware Avenue firehouse (Hook and Ladder No. 4). He knew something about buildings. So here’s what he had to say:

“The calamity at Myers’s is just what might have been expected,” said Marcus T. Reynolds, an architect who has designed several of the city’s largest buildings.

“North Pearl for the most part is lined with old ramshackle buildings that have been remodeled, altered, and their walls made to bear weights they were never intended to support. The original walls were built in former days, when hardly any one knew what good work was. The mortar was poor and the walls themselves were raised up to a height sufficient to support a two-story dwelling. As time went on it became expedient to convert these old dwellings into commercial structures. The plan followed ordinarily would be to add a couple of stories, superimposing them on the old walls erected originally for a dwelling house. About 25 years after altering the structure into a commercial building the owner would engage an architect to draw up plans for further alterations. Holes would be made in these old walls for passage ways, two or more buildings would be thrown into one with an old party wall retained between them. Plumbers would be turned loose and they would put holes through the walls for pipes; electricians put holes through for wires. The result finally would be that the walls would be much weakened and when any alterations are undertaken, as was done in the case of the John G. Myers Co., the operation is extremely precarious and attended with danger.

“Almost every one knows that the big department store on the corner of North Pearl and Steuben streets, before it was burned down three years ago, was only a remodeled boarding house, one in which DeWitt Clinton, a former governor of the state, died. These old buildings are much like the old fashioned one horse chaise: you can cut and alter them a great deal, but the day comes when they collapse.”

Yeah, I say that about one horse chaises all the time.

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